Wa-Zimba: Mande Wazy

The band members incorporate a host of world influences from free jazz and hip hop to techno and pop to Rai and raga into their repertoire. And on one song, "Sodine Key", I swear I could even hear echoes of Jerry Garcia jammin' country-style circa American Beauty.


Mande Wazy

Label: Tinder
US Release Date: 2006-05-06
UK Release Date: Available as import

Although Wa-Zimba takes its name from the original inhabitants of the East African island of Madagascar and utilizes native instruments, rhythms, and vocal polyphony into its songs, which are performed in Malagache, the trio does not consider itself a traditional Malagasy group. The band members incorporate a host of world influences from free jazz and hip hop to techno and pop to Rai and raga into their repertoire. And on one song, "Sodine Key", I swear I could even hear echoes of Jerry Garcia jammin’ country-style circa American Beauty. The results of this fusion are mostly interesting and inventive, although at times the mix threatens to slide into what is sometimes called sausage music, where the ingredients lose their distinctive identities and blend into something less than grand.

The album was recorded in France. French jazz guitarist Phillippe Robert founded the band, and serves as the album's primary arranger and sound designer. He gives every song a lilting string foundation to which his countryman Pierre Acourt adds keyboard rhythms and percussions while Malagasy bassist and vocalist Julio Rakotonanahary simultaneously provides a pulsating beat and melody. A host of other musicians join in the fun on instruments that range from traditional Malagasy bamboo harps and drums to electronic synthesizers and keyboards to mandolin and dobros to melodicas, saxophones, and flutes. The songs continuously percolate with busy, danceable sounds and sound effects. Again, while this is mostly good, at times the result is, well…boring. The music flows and babbles rather than builds to climaxes and crescendos.

Consider the opening track, "Ela" (which is translated as "Such a Long Time"). The music begins pleasantly enough, but really doesn't go anywhere. This may be on purpose. The liner notes provide brief interpretations/translations of the song. This five-minute/six-stanza cut is explained succinctly as "Would you give me a sign / Without acting like you don't see me / If you have a heart, share it with me". Perhaps the fact that the music tends to go nowhere fast is meant to mimic the anxious emotions of a person in love with an unresponsive person, but if so, the lover's plea is unconvincing. It turns into more of a whine than a heartache. This doesn't make "Ela" a bad song. The tune just starts out promising more than what it ends up delivering.

Incidentally, the short descriptions of the lyrics (provided by Chrisine Breton and Julio Rakotonanahary) are very helpful. The perky "Namana" ("Friends") turns out to be a semi-paranoid tribute to friends ("Do you know who your real friends are"). The uplifting tune of "I Soa No Tiako" (It's Soa That I Love" masks the declaration of a young man who plans to defy his parents' wishes and marry a girl not of their choosing. And the spooky atmospherics of "'Zaho Sy Ianao" ("Me and You") reinforce the concept of a pair of lovers who no longer care for the other. As these examples indicate, many of the songs concern one-on-one human relationships. But the most compelling songs have larger themes.

The staccato music of "Vonjeo" ("S.O.S."), with a melodica mimicking the sound of a telegraph sending an urgent message, highlights lyrics about villagers driven into exile by bombs and guns. The one song which contains every word translated is the gentle lament "Iza no homba" ("Who") that tells the story of children exploited into work and prostitution to feed themselves. The tune asks who would take care of those who want to be taken care of, play, and go to school. In a world where childhood has no meaning, the rhetorical, unstated answer is no one -- the "Who" of the title.

Mandy Wazy has great ambitions. It tries to combine many different musical styles into its Malagasy base and address personal and political concerns. The fact that the record doesn't always succeed is less important than what it tries to accomplish. In an age where Madagascar has become a Hollywood cartoon, keeping it real has actual significance.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.